PTSD, Cipher Method and Tori’s Nightmares

Ken in Jan'18

What now follows in this, Ken Arenson’s third guest-post, and in this, blog’s post 35 describing Tori’s PTSD nightmare resolving by inclusions that refer to later disquieting events in her life. Thank you, Ken for your illuminating posts on the Cipher Method and it’s application to PTSD, Dreams and Nightmares. It has been fascinating following your three blogs. 

In my Second guest-post, which is post 30 from my blog, I discussed how PTSD gets started, and I wrote:

“…eidetic post-trauma nightmares do sometimes resolve. As they do, the feature of note is that they cease to be wholly eidetic and begin to have inclusions of the letter-analogues of the cipher method. We will see this in Tori’s nightmares in a later post.”

Viewed as cipher method dreams where the images and sensations are the linguistic thoughts of the Somno circuit in letter-analogue format. These can be retrieved as speech sounds from the dream report if the true context is known –namely, what was on her mind at the time of this 7-years-later dream.

This was my 35th post, and it is a continuation of a discussion of Tori’s nightmare that begins at post 28 where there are pictures of the balcony that broke away from a hotel wall with her and a bridal party on it and which led to her PTSD focused on fear of heights. Her life continued after that, and other sorrowful events occurred in her life as we will see in this nightmare/dream viewed through the cipher method.


Tori’s nightmares (7 years post-trauma): The frequency of the “falling balcony” PTSD eidetic nightmare has declined two-thirds by integration with other life’s concerns evidenced by ISMcm variation nightmares with hints of eidetic traumatic elements. (35th Post 27 Sept. 2017)

Part 2: Nightmares and ISMcm [Inner Speech Metaphorization cipher method]. Begins in post 28.

All of the 11 members of the bridal party who fell developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, diagnosed by a Clinical Psychologist in the area. They all developed nightmares, heightened orienting response, avoidance, fear of heights and fear of falling, in varying degrees. Most developed other anxiety symptoms including agoraphobia. Some of them lost consciousness on impact and had memory gaps and had post-concussive sequelae.

The last time I gathered their histories was 7 years post-accident, in March 2015. I was preparing for a settlement conference.  In their nightmares reports, I was on the lookout for variations from the eidetic that signified semantic integration predicted to be the route to amelioration of symptoms. (See post 34)

The bride’s nightmares had resolved entirely.  At the other extreme, one groomsman still had nothing but eidetic nightmares, and frequent ones. His Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and life seemed the worst, as well.  The other 10 were experiencing nightmares varying from infrequent to none for eidetic ones but replaced by vivid bad dreams. Nightmares are not a term of art: I remember Ernest Hartmann, a noted expert, [1] saying that nightmares were just dreams where one “awakens with a scared feeling”.  (He was excluding the eidetic ones,)

Post 28 has pictures and an account of what happened to Tori.  She had eidetic nightmares that replayed the experience several times a week for the first 3 or 4 months. This gradually reduced in frequency.

Tori had no treatment for her PTSD. By 7 years out, she was having three nightmares a week, with two of those variation nightmares for every eidetic one. The variation nightmares had only a few elements of the eidetic nightmare, it appeared to me. She did continue to suffer flashback, fear of heights and avoidance, hyper vigilance — or in other words, a hair-trigger on her orienting response — and anxiety.

She also developed agoraphobia. She noticed it most in the check-out line at the supermarket, where she feels hemmed in. She gets her boyfriend to stand in line for her.  She believes this is probably due to the memory of the 11 of the bridal party lined up cheek by jowl on the balcony. In the checkout line, the open weave of the metal grocery carts also remind her of the opening of the slats on the floor of the balcony that were supported by metal joists, and it makes her uncomfortable. This is visible in some of the photos.

The twice weekly variation nightmares are where we will hear the metaphors indicating integration of that old trauma with new events in her lifes. You need some history. About 2 years before the March 2015 update, Tori split-up with her long time spouse. Tori had by then come into a sizable estate from compensation paid for wrongful deaths of her parents. I was her attorney on that claim, as well.  Her departing spouse demanded a payoff.  It was wrenching for her. A person she loved was leaving her, again, and to add insult, she had to pay him! She was an object of considerable curiosity in her small northern Ontario town. Wild as a young teenager after her parents died, she went from impecunious to becoming a well-off heiress in her 20’s. Her doings were good gossip around town, and she had more attention than was comfortable and she often felt the town’s eyes on her.

“A 20 storey [2] building”, nightmare, reported by Tori in March 2015

Here is her dream report on the variation nightmares. She said,

“I am on an elevator that was going up and up and would not stop until it reached the top of a 20 storey building. The elevator would not go back down. I had to take the stairs. I was terrified. They were transparent stairs. The stairs were metal grate. On the stairs I could see all the way to the bottom.”

Here is my summary of the metaphors that are present:

…20 storey  = 20 stories

…elevator = ehh.. love or hate her?

…would not stop = would not stop

…would not go back down = would not back down

…metal grate = me tell great

(4 repetitions of) …stairs = stares

…see to the bottom = see to the bottom [understand where this is coming from]

The deck that broke away was made of slats of wood supported on metal brackets as we saw in the photos. The wedding party mounted stairs in the Old Inn to get to the third floor. Being up high remains – but the dream is no longer set on the 3rd floor of the Old Inn, now it is in a “20 storey building”.

Right away I think this an exaggeration for effect: she has told the “story” 20 times, meaning many times. Also, the stairs and the metal grate in the dream report are consistent with being fragments of the eidetic memory that still is replaying every third or so time she has a nightmare. But “stairs” and “metal grate” also can be heard as metaphors. She is the object of many stares in town. There is a catachresic concatenation and a homophone in the phrase “metal grate”. “Metal” is slightly off “me tell”, in the long “e” sound of “me”, as well as in the “ah” vs the “eh” in “tal” vs “tell”. “Grate” does make an exact homophonic transition to “great”.

At a meaning level, it was an accurate self-assessment: She was a good historian and she always told her stories well. I used her as the lead plaintiff because of that ability. It is so much easier to hear Inner Speech Metaphorizations when you know the dreamer’s history and therefore can readily infer the true context of the dream.

There are other suggestive words and phrases. Look at the first line. Notice that concatenated word “elevator” — “ehh… love or hate her”. Note also a phrase that readily changes its meaning when the context changes, “would not stop”.

…an elevator that was going up and up and would not stop…

In Tori’s case, it was plausibly connected to the feelings for the partner –does he love or hate her? But, something “would not stop”. Perhaps it was her affection for him, or the uncertainty of his love lost, or the fights, or the pain and expense of potential separation. Probably some of all that.

The discussion of the ISMcm meaning for Tori of the variation nightmare continues in the next post, along with some inferences of general import.


© Kenneth M. Arenson, Toronto, ON. Canada

[1] See for example: Hartmann, E, (1985) The Nightmare, Basic Books

[2] “Storey”, Canadian & British spelling of levels or floors in a building. “Story”, Canadian & British (and US) spelling of a word meaning account of events.

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PREVIOUS ARTICLE Shapiro (1989), McGuire et al (2014), ISMcm theory (2017): Eye Movements [Saccades] trigger metaphorization in dreams, and information processing is enabled to move memories from the episodic to the semantic system as predicted by the AIP Model of PTSD, (34th post 25 Sep 2017)

NEXT ARTICLE More to learn from Tori’s variation nightmares, including this: Eye movements appear causally linked to metaphor production. (36th Post, 29 Sept. 2017)


© Kenneth M. Arenson, Toronto, ON. Canada

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